Heading east on our way to a final couple of days of as yet unspecified adventures, we realise that it’s Labour Day weekend – probably the busiest 3 days of the USA outdoor year; the chances of finding a campsite are near zero.
My favourite new resource: http://www.freecampsites.net throws up various possibilities, but they’re either miles out of the way or accessible only by 4WD, and anyway there’s no guarantee of any space. Our best bet looks to be a tiny BLM campground near the town of Wolcott on The Eagle River. Unsurprisingly, all 6 campsites are already taken, and Bank Holiday celebrations are well underway, but there’s a nice grassy area next to the day-use parking, and we figure that a low-key “tent up after dark / strike camp at dawn” approach will suffice. We even chip in the $10 camping fee. As an added bonus, and completely by coincidence, there’s a magnificent 20ft sandstone boulder which, by the magic of Mountain Project, we establish as being the Fat Ass Boulder.
I can’t resist a quick play as Bill prepares tea. Top Tip – always check the easiest way down before climbing to the top of a 20ft boulder.
Next morning I celebrate my birthday breakfast in somewhat unusual surroundings:
Continuing our journey east, Bill drives as I scour the web for inspiration for a worthwhile objective for a Birthday Climb. Key criteria: memorable; challenging (but not TOO challenging); doable in half a day; shady or high (it’s heading for 100F again) and not too far to walk. We ponder Good Evans at 12,000ft on Mt Evans, but it’s East facing and we’d be freezing our bits off by the time we arrived in the early afternoon.
Instead, we head for Eldorado Canyon near Boulder…
This legendary crag is clearly an essential stop on Bill’s “Best of Colorado” climbing tour, and the north-facing Bastille (left of the picture below) should provide enough shade to make the temperature tolerable. As an added bonus there’s a nice bit of symmetry: I’d climbed The Naked Edge (more or less the right skyline in the photo below) with Mike Ryan on my 40th Birthday, and here I was exactly 15 years later, to climb Outer Space with Bill.
Of course, we’re not the only ones seeking the shade on The Bastille, and we join the queue / “line” for the classic Bastille Crack with which Outer Space shares the first two pitches. The gleaming polish is a testament to its status as perhaps the most-climbed piece of rock in Colorado (but it’s a very fine route).
Here’s Bill leading up to the point where our route heads off rightwards.
Outer Space is a two-pitch top-out that initially follows a diagonal line of weakness up right to a ledge beneath the crux overhanging headwall. Lulled into a false sense of security by the 10.a grade, I soon grind to a halt at the first 5.9 crux: a very thin move to gain the diagonal. It’s nails, and the gear is a bit dodgy. I eventually sketch upwards, but this wasn’t in the script (later advice from a local suggests taking a parallel line to the right). This brings the second 10.a crux to hand, which is ALSO nails! My tubby fat fingers won’t go in the crucial fingerlock, and anyway I want a piece of gear there. “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” drifts through my mind, before I finally “person-up” to get it done (removing the gear to free up the hold, and using it with my ring and little fingers). I finally make it to the belay beneath the 10.c crux overhang (with a bit of a reputation for fall potential), and sulk and contemplate escape options as I bring Bill up.
By the time he arrives I’ve at least summoned the mojo to give the crux a go. This turns out to be much more straightforward than the previous pitch, with good gear (though strenuously won) before a long reach to clip the inverted peg at the crux, then a bit of a pop to catch the obvious undercling. An easy but exhilarating move left, above great exposure, leads into a more steady groove and a fun sprint for the top via a tricky diagonal ramp and outrageous juggy huecos.
What a pitch and what a route – Stellar!!!
With my Birthday-route in the bag, it’s back down to earth with a bump – time to work out where we’re going to spend the night. The Internet throws up a bunch of campgrounds heading up in the direction of Nederland but each hopeful enquiry of each puzzled campground host yields the same response: “We’re completely full – don’t you know it’s Labour Day Weekend? Good luck!”
Our backstop is an area of BLM land above Nederland: West Marigold – it gets mixed reports but we figure that everything will look a lot better after beer and pizza. The Very Nice Brewing Company sounds like just the place..
There’s even a band…
I get the beers in and then head upstairs to the neighboring pizza place to order a 20″ veggie monster.
By the time I get back, Bill is deep in conversation with a couple of locals. No, they didn’t have any suggestions for other campgrounds that we hadn’t tried, but we’d be very welcome to come and spend the evening at their place. How fantastically hospitable is that???
We stocked up on some carry-outs (it really IS a very nice brewery) and followed our new friends, Dan and Liz up to their home – a genuine log cabin in the hills above Nederland (which they share with Kona the dog and Lucy the cat). A hugely entertaining evening of beer, pizza, burgers, random music and increasingly random conversation followed before Bill and I crawled into our sleeping bags on the pull-out sofa – the comfiest bed we’d had in two weeks.
I woke by chance in the middle of the night, and looked out of the window to notice that the interior light of the car was on and the driver’s door was open. Strange – Bill must have missed it when he fetched his sleeping bag. Then I spotted the dark silhouette of a black bear casually opening the back door and sifting through our stuff in search of food. On its hind legs it was considerably taller than the roof of the car and I doubted the wisdom of a direct confrontation (Headline in the Nederland Post: “Visiting Brit climber has head torn off by bear on birthday”). Luckily the car key fob had an extra emergency red button that sounds the horn and flashes the lights, and even more fortunately my slightly addled brain had the wherewithal to press it! Sure enough, the bear ambled off, and I summoned up the courage to go outside in the pitch black to assess the damage and secure the vehicle (I’ve never been so grateful for the flashlight app on my phone!!!)
In fact all four doors were open, and a few bits of ransacked kit were spread around the car, but the only obvious collateral damage seemed to be a packet of Starbursts (which our visitor had managed to open and empty with amazing dexterity).
Morning dawned and Bill’s recollection of events could be summed up as “Bear? What bear?” A full survey showed no lasting damage beyond the aforementioned Starbursts and some dusty paw prints (how clever of Bill to leave the car unlocked rather than risk a bear tearing the doors off their hinges).
Coffee on the porch, soaking up the Colorado sunshine – the start of another day in paradise. A huge thank you to Liz and Dan for their tremendous hospitality and contributing to A VERY MEMORABLE BIRTHDAY!